the dog in the canoe

Writing now about how to decide what to research for my culminating, capstone project for U of R. I am thinking inquiry in science, but there is so much literature on it already. I am interested in practical. How do we do this efficiently and well?
The first task in this process is to find an article and teach yourself how to consume it efficiently. What does it say? How do we know what the researchers found? How do the findings of the article relate to our own work?

The catch about this research is that it has to be related to something that I do in my practice that I have been having an issue with. My main issue is student interest and motivation within my own classroom–many of my issues with interest would be cured if I could take the students places other than the classroom to learn. Field trips once a month and planning the entire curriculum around 10 field trips. In order for this type of model to work, all of the lose ends need to be tied up and fit together.
Experiential learning programs are popular right now as are Problem Based models. I think my action research project will be based on the effectiveness of these types of programs for my students population(Collaborative and Advanced Placement).
The study I ended up choosing involved problem based learning. In the study, the teachers were interested to see if they could collect any data that showed greater student achievement gains from using PBL methodology vs. a more traditional lecture and discussion approach. The argument was/is that there is very little research in the literature presently that has shown PBL to be an effective teaching method with a K-12 population. The researchers were also interested to learn if there would be a significant difference in achievement between the PBL where the students were allowed to work in groups vs. an independent PBL lesson.
I am interested in this as well because our principal pushed project based learning on us this year, going so far as to require us to implement a lesson with a project component without any training or explanation on what it was that she was looking for. This frustrated me.
There are two models that have come out in the last few months that instructional leaders seem to gravitate toward(PROBLEM based learning and PROJECT based learning) When I say PBL, I am speaking about PROBLEM based.
Problem based learning is a pedagogical approach in which students engage a problem without preparatory study and with knowledge insufficient to solve the problem which requires that they extend existing knowledge and understanding and apply this enhanced understanding to generate a solution(Wirkala and Kuhn, 2011).
In the study that I read for my research class, the teachers generated 2 social studies lessons: one on Groupthink(how faulty decision making can occur in groups) and the other on Memory(how certain study factors influence the learning of material). They then taught the lessons, in different combinations, to 3 groups of middle school students who were all functioning on grade level. For example, one group may have had the first lesson as a lecture and discussion and the second as group PBL or some combination. Either way, the students were exposed to 2 of the 3 treatments.
After the lessons, the students were then given a series of directly cued(lower Bloom’s) and indirectly cued(higher Blooms’s). The results were that the students who had the PBL lessons performed better on the indirectly cued questions. An indirectly cued question requires the students to apply knowledge acquired during the lesson to a different situation, while a directly cued question requires them to explain a concept in context. They learned the material on a deeper level. Now, this doesn’t really tell us anything that an experience practitioner doesn’t already know. Students grasp material better if they are engaged, but it does bring up the question how can we train teachers to use these strategies? If anyone has been to an inservice on PBL, I am interested to know what you have found out. In my own research, I have been able to find very little in the way of training and lesson development in this area.

The other finding of the study was that there were no statistically significant differences in the scores of the students who had the individual PBL vs. the group PBL. So, the social and collaborative aspect of learning was not significant for this particular group of students.

How does this relate to me you ask? Going back to my earlier post on recycling and environmental stewardship. I am interested in developing a program that will help students solve the problem of the giant amount of non biodegradable waste that they generate. All of our silverware and dishes in the cafeteria are disposable. Many of our students purchase plastic water bottles from vending machines and then throw them away without a second thought to where they will go. And, to make matters worse, I am not sure that they really care.
Here is an idea to where they will go: http://blog.ted.com/2009/02/24/capt_charles_mo/
The Pacific Garbage patch gets the most attention, but there is similar one in the Atlantic as well. We live in a disposable society and it is a PROBLEM.
How can I, in my own classroom, educate and tie this problem to the curriculum I teach using a PBL platform?

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